Biplane fighter aces

Soviet Union

Leonid G. Rybkin

Rybkin served as a volunteer during the Spanish Civil War.

During the spring of 1937, the second group of Soviet volunteers was sent to Spain. The group was led by Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko and consisted of Leytenant Mikhail Yakushin ('Carlos Castejón'), Rybkin, I. Trophimov, M. Petrov, S. Shelyganovand and I. Karpov.
They travelled through France with Dutch passports - they didn't speak either foreign language fluently! Not without adventures the Soviet fliers arrived at their destination in May 1937.
Arriving with them where Spanish Republican pilots who had been undergoing fighter training at the Soviet flight school near Kirovabad.

At the same time as this second group of Soviet volunteers arrived, another batch of 31 Chatos arrived from the Soviet Union, taking the total number supplied to the Republicans to 116. These new fighters greatly enhanced the strength of the I-15 Grupo.
Initially, these new aircraft were used to fly patrols over the Mediterranean coastal zone from Cartagena and Elche to Alicante, protecting Republican warships and cargo vessels. This mission had initially been performed by the I-16s, but following the redeployment of the latter type to the north, and the poor quality of the latest batch of Polikarpov fighters to reach Spain, the I-15 Grupo was given the task of coastal patrolling. The pilots assigned this role formed the backbone of the 1a Escuadrilla, which had been placed under Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko’s command while Andrés García La Calle was undergoing further training in the Soviet Union.

After arrival, an escuadrilla of I-16 fighters, designated 1a Escuadrilla of Grupo de Caza No 21 (1a/21), was organized under the command of Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko. Initially this unit performed defensive duties over Cartagena and Alicante covering ship and transports from insurgent air raids. During a period of forced inaction in June 1937, half of the group was sent to Los Alcazares airfield, where it was re-equipped with I-I5 biplanes. The new escuadrilla was designated 1a/26.
Mikhail Yakushin served in this escuadrilla as a Leytenant.

The escuadrilla had already become operational two days after the Brunete campaign began and where aviation played considerable role. The insurgents increased their presence in the air battles by using German and Italian units armed with the newest aircraft. Nevertheless, Soviet fliers gained considerable success there, claiming numerous enemy aircraft shot down.

In the early morning on 7 July, Kapitan Ivan Yeremenko was ordered to take his escuadrilla and fly towards Madrid to join with Lakeyev's Escuadrilla in the air. Meanwhile the escuadrilla of Aleksandr Minayev was flying over the front line. The antiaircraft defence opened fire upon the Republican fighters over the Delicias railroad station. Fiat CR.32s appeared from the Princess Bridge side. Dogfights began over the Delicias railroad station, Andalusia Bridge, and Tobacco Manufacture. A group of Ju 52/3ms and Do 17s appeared from the western side and Minayev's escuadrilla flew to intercept the bombers but Fiats attacked the I-15s and dispersed them.
Sargento José Redondo Martín, the Spanish pilot of one of the I-15s, was wounded and Rybkin shielded him, but both were forced to fight nine Fiats. One Fiat collided with another and was set on fire. Rybkin and Redondo joined with M. Petrov and I. Karpov whom had flown to help. At that moment Leytenant Mikhail Yakushin, Kapitan Yeremenko, and Starshiy Leytenant Anatoly Serov of the 1a Escuadrilla attacked the leading group of Fiats from above. One Fiat was shot down and the pilot bailed out (claimed as a shared between Yakushin, Yeremenko, and Serov). Pilots of I-15s and I-16s had seen four Bf 109s in the area, but they did not attack the Republican fighter.
The I-15 of the Austrian Walter Koraus was attacked by a Fiat and was shot down. Immediately Yakushin attacked this Fiat and destroyed it in the air.
Starshiy Leytenant Serov claimed two CR.32 during this day.
It seems that three I-15s from the 1a Escuadrilla were lost, with Karpov killed, Shalhiganov wounded and Austrian Walter Koraus surviving unscathed. Flight leader Serov and his wingman Yakushin managed to nurse their badly damaged biplanes back to base. Dhyakonov, who was leading an I-16 flight, suffered serious wounds in combat possibly from Capitano Degli Incerti’s gunfire, and he died later that day after landing in Republican territory.
The Aviazione Legionaria reported that during the morning between Madrid and Brunete, 14 CR.32s of 19a and 20a Squadriglie, led by Maggiore Andrea Zotti (CO XXIII Gruppo), encountered nine I-15s and eight I-16s that were escorting nine R-Zs. The Republican aircraft were joined by other flights from a formation of 20 I-16s as they flew over Madrid. Italian pilots were credited with shooting down seven ‘Curtiss fighters’ during the clash, one of which was claimed by Maggiore Zotti. Three ’Ratas’ were also destroyed, one of which was credited to Capitano Enrico Degli Incerti (CO 19a Squadriglia), while Sergente Maggiore Alfonso Mattei downed an R-Z but was then forced to take to his parachute after his CR.32 was hit by return fire from the R-Z. He landed in Nationalist territory near Pozuelo de Alarcón.
After claiming his I-15, Zotti shared the destruction of a second I-15 with his two wingmen. Ten minutes later, however, his CR.32 was shot up by an I-16, the Italian being wounded in the thigh. His engine was also hit, and as it began to overheat Zotti was forced to land at nearby Griñon airfield. Sergente Maggiore Gino Passeri (19a Squadriglia) protected his CO until he was safely down, only to then be bounced by another I-16 upon re-joining the battle and killed. Sergente Giuseppe Ruzzin (19a Squadriglia) (CR.32 “3-12” no. 435) claimed an I-15 (”Curtiss”) but was then attacked by an I-16. He was saved by his leader Capitano Degli Incerti, who damaged the Rata, which quickly broke off. Sergente Giuseppe Mottet (20a Squadriglia) claimed an I-15.
Totally after this confusing and slightly contradicting battle it seems that the Republican pilots at least claimed five CR.32s while losing three I-15s and getting several damaged. The Aviazione Legionaria claimed seven I-15s, three I-16s and one R-Z for the loss of two CR.32s.

The Republican squadrons were effective in defending the airspace above Madrid by day, but the enemy exploited the night to bomb the city. Faced with this situation Starshiy Leytenant Anatoly Serov and Leytenant Mikhail Yakushin of the 1a Escuadrilla, both experienced night pilots in their own country, having obtained authorization from the high command, set about organizing a night fighter group comprising of Viktor Kuznetsov (CO), Serov, Rybkin, Yakushin and Vladimir Sorokin. The unit was known as the Patrulla de Noche.
It was no easy task, given that the airfields did not have the necessary infrastructure for night operations (beacons, searchlights, etc). They set up some car headlights and lit bonfires along the runway, which the ground personnel covered over at the first sign of enemy presence, and training began at Alcalá de Henares, whose airfield was the most suitable.

In the morning on 12 July, Bozidar Petrovich claimed a shared He 111 with Rybkin and Sardina.

Later the same day, Leytenant Viktor Kuznetsov claimed a shared Do 17 together with Rybkin.

Rybkin ended the war with 2 shared biplane victories. These being claimed in Spain.

Kill no. Date Time Number Type Result Plane type Serial no. Locality Unit
  12/07/37 morning 1/3 He 111 Shared destroyed I-15   Spain 1a/Gr. 26
  12/07/37   1/2 Do 17 Shared destroyed I-15   Spain 1a/Gr. 26

Biplane victories: 2 shared destroyed.
TOTAL: 2 shared destroyed.

Air War over Spain - Jesus Salas Larrazabal, 1974 Ian Allan Ltd, Shepperton, Surrey, ISBN 0-7110-0521-4
Fiat CR.32 Aces of the Spanish Civil War - Alfredo Logoluso, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-983-6
Polikarpov I-15, I-16 and I-153 Aces - Mikhail Maslov, 2010 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84603-981-2
Spanish Republican Aces – Rafael A. Permuy López, 2012 Osprey Publishing, Oxford, ISBN 978-1-84908-668-4
Additional information kindly provided by Alfredo Logoluso.

Last modified 14 August 2014